February 15, 1907-May 8, 1991
"To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art." -Jean Langlais
Organist and composer Jean Langlais was born on February 15th, 1907 in the small village of La Fontenelle, Brittany, France. He was the oldest of four children and became blind by the age of two. Langlais entered the Institute for the Young Blind where he studied organ, piano, violin, and harmony with the great blind teachers of the day including Andre Marchal. He then entered the Paris Conservatory where he studied organ with Marcel Dupre, receiving the first prize. He also completed additional study with Charles Tournemire and composition with Paul Dukas.
Langlais' compositional style and playing are rooted in the traditions and love of the church he served for 43 years (1945-1988): The Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris. Here, he followed in the footsteps of both César Franck and Charles Tournemire where the three make up the "Sainte-Clotilde Tradition".
As a teacher, Jean Langlais served as the professor of organ at the National Institute of the Young Blind for 40 years as well as a professor at the Paris Schola Cantorum from 1961-1976.
Langlais was a prolific composer of organ, vocal, and instrumental music numbering over 250 opus numbers. He was also a sought after recitalist throughout the world, embarking on numerous tours to the USA and Germany and making numerous recordings.
Jean Langlais died in Paris on May 8th, 1991. He was 84 years old.
Langlais' musical compositions have many influences. However, perhaps the most important was his faith and devotion to God and Mary. He was a Roman Catholic but his music transcends all faiths. His work is filled with references to Medieval music, chant, folk melodies, and modality just to name a couple. This marriage of the old styles and Langlais' own compositional style made way for the extremely interesting and beautiful music that transcends organists, students, and audiences to this day.
Jean Langlais: My Story
My first exposure to the music of Jean Langlais was through the venerable Saint Anne's Shrine in Fall River Massachusetts. Saint Anne's organist and choir director Normand Gingras was a student of Jean Langlais both at Boystown Nebraska and the École Normale de Musique in Paris. Normand, an avid lover and player of his music, invited Langlais to Saint Anne's many times, including to dedicate the large, inspiring, and quite significant Casavant Organ in the upper church on October 12th 1964.
Growing up and attending concerts and services at Saint Anne's, I was exposed to much of Langlais' organ music and was the recipient of so many stories illustrating a very dynamic and complex man. His life and music quickly became one of my passions.
I have been so lucky to have worked with two other teachers who were students and close confidants of Langlais himself: James David Christie (private student in improvisation, 1975) and Marie Louise Langlais (second wife and student at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, 1969). It is through these two individuals that I was able to learn his style and musical ideas through many compositions of his early and middle period.
Langlais' music deserves to continually heard and appreciated. The generation of Langlais' students is starting to wain, and it is my true hope to carry the tradition forward. I hope others may continue to learn and interact with a wonderful story of a very influential person and his music.
Matthew Dion with Marie-Louise Langlais after a lesson on the 1962 Gonzalez Organ at the Église réformée de l'Oratoire du Louvre, Paris France in January 2020.
Matthew Dion play Langlais' Hymne D'Action De Grâce (Te Deum) from the Trois Paraphrases Grégoriennes written in 1934. Careful attention is taken to adhere to Langlais' preferred tempos especially prevalent in the 1955 recording at Sainte-Clotilde. This recording is from the 1964 Casavant Organ at Saint Anne's Shrine in Fall River Massachusetts.